Theological Inclusivism vs. Exclusivism

I’ve been thinking a lot about theological inclusivism vs. exclusivism.  There is a delicate balance between “we need to be careful about incorrect teaching” and “we need to be open minded and accept one another and focus on our common ground.”

It’s a delicate tightrope to walk.  My natural tendency is to fall to the latter.  For most of my life I’ve been incredibly frustrated by those who think they have a corner on theology.  But I’ve also been one of these people.

I discovered this amazing quote earlier, from a post on Rob Bell over at Jesus the Radical Pastor:  “I am so tired of those who think that orthodoxy simply means parroting John Calvin and Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards and J. Gresham Machen. Those thinkers had their day in the sun. We need fresh thought and expression of enduring biblical realities. Yes, for the sake of God’s glory, for the health of the church, and for the eternal destinies of billions. Rob has knocked over a big domino to get us thinking.”

My natural tendency is to gravitate toward that “fresh thought and expression”.  The difficulty is making sure that fresh thought and expression stays anchored in those enduring truths instead of accidentally losing track and losing touch with truth.

I wish this was easier.  But this is life and people and there’s not a handbook for it.  You might say “the Bible is our handbook!”, and that’s true in a sense… but what’s the handbook on interpreting the Bible?  With midrash and parables and statements designed to shroud the meaning – I don’t think God left us as easy a task as some people think He did.

Reading List 2015

book-reading-listAloha. Just wanted to share a quick list of everything that I’ve been reading lately, and I will keep it updated as I add/expand/check off items.

It’s a good list.  Nonfiction, but I’m sure I’ll read some fiction on the side.  Some of these books are deeply psychological.  Some have to do with Genesis or homosexuality.  Some are scientific.  It’s a good mix of books.  I’ve checked some off already, and I’m excited to share some of my thoughts.  I’ll keep you posted as I read through the list.

Calvinism & “People’s Hand in Their Own Salvation” (Cousin Chats Part 3)

chessMy cousin Tina and I have been doing a series of chats about different topics related to Scripture, Christianity, practical living, etc. She has encouraged me to publish some of these discussions as blog posts. Take a look at our previous discussions on modesty and homosexuality.

Tina and I were talking today about determinism and free will. Determinism is the idea that absolutely everything people do is determined by God. If you take determinism to its logical conclusion, which the theology of Calvinism does, people are even preordained to go to heaven or go to hell from before the dawn of time.

Tina has never encountered this perspective before, so it was completely foreign to her (as I think it is for most people – it’s contrary to a normal way of thinking). I decided to role play and put her in one of the common Calvinist theological headlocks, to see how she responded. Her response was extremely enlightening.

Me: “If you choose Jesus for your salvation, didn’t you have a part in saving yourself? So it’s not ONLY God you should be thanking for your salvation, but also yourself!”

Tina: “What?! Uh no. lol”

Me: “But don’t you see? If God did 99% of your salvation, but your choosing him was the important 1%, aren’t you saving yourself, even JUST A LITTLE BIT? How arrogant, not to give 100% of the glory all to God!”

Tina: “If that were the case wouldn’t you be able to save yourself from the beginning? You either can or cannot and my stand point is you can’t. Only God can and it’s the choice if we choose him or not.”

I think Tina makes an incredible distinction here:  Between the ability to save oneself, and the ability to choose salvation when it is offered.  These are two vastly different things.  Don’t forget this when thinking about the sovereignty/free will debate.

Did Jesus Rise?

empty-tomb-jesus-resurrection-debateWhen I was sixteen, I went through a spiritual crisis. I was interacting with a lot of atheists online and found myself asking the question, “out of all the hundreds of religions in the world, how do I know I was born into the right one?” I decided to do some research. During a two week break from school, I locked myself in my room and did nothing but pushups and research. I ended up discovering so much.

I became convinced that Jesus of Nazareth really was who he said he was and had really done what he said he did. Including rise from the dead. My two weeks of solitude and study resulted in a 31 page paper, for my own personal study. I mentioned this paper during youth group on Sunday, and a number of you asked to read it.

Here is the paper in its entirety, with a shorter version provided.

Did Jesus Rise?pdficon_small (Longer version, more technical)

pdficon_smallJesus, Risen? (Shorter, more popular level version)

Traditional Hell vs. Annihilationism

hell-fire-annihilationHello, dear readers.  Just wanted to share an article I wrote forever ago.  Have an open mind when you read this.  This is a paper that I wrote on annihilationism (the idea that after the resurrection, the wicked received a punishment of consumption and extinction by fire rather than the traditional view of ongoing punishment for all eternity).  I think this view possibly supports biblical and historical interpretation data better than the traditional view.  I recently presented this view, and this paper, to the local assembly of youth pastors and managed to get our constitution changed to allow for this view as a scriptural possibility.

For further reading, I suggest Edward Fudge’s The Fire That Consumes.  This is a brilliant book written by a careful scholar.  Edward Fudge was approached by a former Seventh Day Adventist who converted to more orthodox Christianity and wasn’t sure which pieces of his faith were worth retaining.  He paid Fudge to research this topic carefully for him.  Edward Fudge, after extremely careful research (his resulting book is 600 heavily footnoted pages), changed his view on the topic of hell and concluded the annihilationist perspective was most biblical after all, and his former SDA friend could hold on to that piece of his heritage.

Here is my paper, in PDF format.

pdficon_smallTraditional Hell or Annihilation?

Thoughts on Modesty (Cousin Chats Part 2)

modesty-and-girls-and-guysThis is part of my “Cousin Chats” series.  I’ve been talking to my cousin Tina about a variety of controversial topics, and she encouraged me to share these posts here.  Take a look at Part 1, a sampling of our discussion on homosexuality and Scripture here.


Okay, so. Modesty. Huge topic. I have a few thoughts on this:

My first thought, as a guy, would be that guys CAN control their own eyes and their own minds. You can’t make a man lust after you because of your clothing choices. He will choose to lust or not to lust. It’s 100% guys’ responsibility to keep their hearts and eyes pure.

Also, in the world we live in, there will ALWAYS be women who don’t dress modestly at all. Every single Christian woman in your life can dress in snowsuits, and as a guy, you will still be assaulted by half-naked women on the covers of magazines, on TV, etc. For guys to maintain purity, they cannot depend on girls to dress modestly.

Modesty is also a cultural standard. In an Arabic culture where 99% of a woman’s skin is covered, showing ankle would be scandalous. In an African culture, it is completely normal for a woman to show her boobs, and guys don’t really take a ton of special notice because it is so common. It’s not seen as sexual. Here, flashing boob is considered extremely sexual and risque. But here, form-fitting pants are everyday wear. They would be completely inappropriate in many parts of Africa.

So what is modest varies from place to place, culture to culture. That’s why you’ll never find an exact definition of what IS modest – it just depends on the time and place.

One other thing I will say is, there is intention behind clothing choices. Especially for girls. From what I’ve seen (and you can confirm or deny this), girls are aware of what impact their clothing choices have. They choose form-fitting clothing to make them look slimmer. Heels make their butts look better. Cleavage is an intentional draw. Push up bras aren’t bought by accident.

So I would say, a good question to ask is this: what does your outfit communicate? If it communicates “I have no morals – take me home and I’ll do anything you want”, guys who are looking for that type of thing will naturally be attracted to them. Guys may also assume, if you’re dressed inappropriately, that you have low sexual standards and will jump in bed with them whenever.

So I’d say there’s some intentionality that should be shown with wardrobe choice. While it’s not impossible to keep your mind on track on a date with a girl whose boobs are hanging out (guys do have control of their own minds and hearts), it’s significantly more difficult. So an awareness of that is appreciated by guys who are trying to be careful of their thought patterns.

But I would also say this – females are attractive sexual beings. Everyone is a sexual being. That’s just how we were created. We have genitalia for a reason. And a huge reason guys are interested in relationships is sex. That’s not a bad thing. They were created to enjoy sexual relationships with women, and to be fulfilled by women that way. Likewise, women were created to be sexually attractive and fulfilling to men.

Be careful about how you understand what I am about to say next. I don’t want to go too far with this thought, but I think modesty vs. sexual draw should be balanced. I have known girls who give off a strong impression of repulsion to the idea that they could be sexually attractive. They wear extremely modest clothes and blush at the topic of sex and talk about purity all too much.

The problem with this is that guys are looking for sex in a relationship, eventually. Good sex. If they’re pursuing a serious relationship with a girl, one of the reasons they are pursuing her is so they can have a sexual relationship with that girl eventually. Sex is a large part of how I expect marriage to improve my life versus being single. There are many other reasons I want to marry my fiance other than sex – I love her, I feel emotionally connected to her, I enjoy being with her, I trust her and want to fulfill her needs because I love her, I think she would be a person I would love spending the rest of my life with. And sex is one of those reasons, too.

Sometimes, girls go too far with the modesty thing and blanch at any mention of sex. Girls who do that usually get crossed off of guys’ “lists”. The reason for this is because they want a girl who is going to be exciting in the bedroom. If the seems like she thinks sex is a “bad” thing – why would a guy want that? If she gives off a positive attitude toward sex, guys are more likely to be interested. At the same time, her attitude shouldn’t be so positive it is casual. That will attract the wrong kind of guys. I think it’s okay for a girls’ outfit to say, “I have morals… and boobs.” The point I’m making is that I think girls are allowed to dress like girls. Not like androgynous loose-fabric-covered beings with long hair.

So I think girls should be aware of what messages they’re sending off, and try to be balanced about it. But ultimately, it is up to guys to keep their minds pure.

Thoughts on Homosexuality (Cousin Chats Part 1)

gay-homosexuality-flagHere are just a few thoughts I’ve had on homosexuality.  My cousin Tina and I were talking about this, and I thought I would share the reflections I shared with her.  I will be speaking about this in church this week, and I’m both excited and nervous.

I think the culture right now is going two different directions. “Embrace all alternative lifestyles!” is the rallying cry of those who believe gay rights is the new civil rights movement, and anyone who disagrees will be buried by the changing tides, lost on the wrong side of history.

At the same time, the Christian culture hasn’t had much more of a helpful approach. They are repulsed by gays and afraid of them, and “pray the gay away” has been an approach held by many. This usually ends in denial, pain, and trauma for the homosexual going through this type of program. The world’s biggest “pray the gay away” group, Exodus, just closed, apologizing to the gay community for all the hurt and trauma they have caused.

Gays DO get bullied. And that is not okay. The “that’s gay!” jokes are not okay. The hate crimes are real. The repulsion is completely unwarranted and too far. This isn’t love, and it’s not what I’m convinced Jesus would do.

However, the Bible is pretty clear that people were created male and female, to have relationships male and female. Leviticus and Romans 1:20 don’t come down easy on homosexuality. It is seen as a perversion of normal sexuality.  I always “read the other side”.  So I’ve read all the attempts to harmonize these passages with homosexuality by saying they refer to temple worship, etc.  I simply haven’t been impressed with this approach, and neither was my Greek professor in college.

I would say that we all have broken parts of our own sexuality. For instance, I am regularly tempted with lust toward girls. There are definitely girls I would like to take home. But I don’t have to give into this temptation. Temptation is not a sin. Giving in to it is.

That’s where I think it’s helpful to distinguish different aspects of homosexuality:

1. Homosexual Attraction (sexual or romantic attraction to someone of the same gender)

2. Homosexual Action (homosexual lust, sex, marriage)

3. Homosexual Orientation (a prolonged pattern of attraction toward those of the same gender)

4. Homosexual Identity (Finding your identity in your homosexual orientation)

I want to talk about these individually.

1. Homosexual attraction is not wrong. This is temptation. It may be a broken part of people’s sexuality (they are supposed to be attracted to the opposite gender, but something went wrong hormonally or genetically or in their past), but having an attraction toward someone of the same gender isn’t wrong. I am immediately sexually attracted to many women on my first glance. But I have a choice. Am I going to stare or create a fantasy in my head, or am I going to clear my mind and turn away? The same choice is there for homosexuals.

2. Homosexual actions are clearly wrong – forbidden by Scripture. If a person who experiences homosexual attraction is going to follow Jesus, they can’t act on these attractions.

3. Homosexual orientation is just a pattern of attraction.  It’s a series of temptations. This falls into category #1. A lot of people think that homosexual orientation can be cured or isn’t present from birth, but I’m not sure this is the case. Nevertheless, we are all born with some kind of genetic flaw or sin. Just because someone is born with a genetic heart condition, doesn’t mean this is how their heart is supposed to operate. Homosexual orientation represents a broken sexuality, but it is something people can’t help and can be seen as just a series of temptations.

4. Homosexual identity, I would say, is the most “gray” area of all of these. First, I would say it’s not okay to embrace a homosexual identity in such a way that leads to homosexual actions. And I do think that our identity should first be in Christ, always, not in our sexual identity. Christ gives us a new identity that covers all our brokenness. I may struggle with lust sometimes, but I’m not an adulterer because Jesus covers me with the banner of “pure”. Jesus’ blood covers my lies with the banner of truth. This is no excuse to act in a way that doesn’t fit that banner, but we need to find our identity in Jesus’ perfection, not our own brokenness. And homosexual identity is brokenness in sexuality.

Finally, I would say that Christians with a homosexual attraction or orientation have it really rough. To follow Christ, they essentially have to live a life of celibacy. That is a TOUGH call. We need to help them by being extra loving and taking the time to include them in our lives as friends. They are people who are in need of extra hugs and phone calls and movie nights.

ISM Spring Calendars


Impact Church hired me to design a spring calendar so that everyone can keep track of Impact Student Ministries (ISM) events over the course of the year.  The calendars feature custom-designed icons and a beautiful, easy-to-follow format.  Around 300 calendars were printed.